Marine debris hotspots in marine protected areas

Degree type


Closing date

29 October 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore

About the research project

Marine debris is one of the greatest threats to the world's oceans. Annually, 19-23 million metric tons enters aquatic ecosystems (Borelle et al., 2020). While a decrease in the annual influx of litter into the oceans is needed to address the debris problem, concerted efforts to reduce existing litter is also needed. To achieve this, it is necessary to understand where and how marine litter accumulates.

At sea, physical processes leading to convergent flows are one of the most important features for marine debris transport and accumulation. Buoyant debris tends to accumulate along convergent flow boundaries. For example, the formation of garbage patches at the centre of sub-tropical gyres are due to such largescale convergent flows. Wind driven Ekman transport converges at the centre of the sub-tropical gyres creating downwelling conditions where marine debris accumulate. In the open ocean, as well as on continental shelves, convergent flows occur along fronts creating hotspots for the accumulation of marine debris.

Networks of MPAs are required for conservation of critical marine habitats. Within these MPAs fronts are associated pelagic biodiversity hotspots (Miller and Christodoulou, 2014) and are considered oases, where convergence enhances nutrient supply and stimulates an increase in biological production at different trophic levels (Owen, 1981; Belkin et al., 2009). Aggregations of plankton, larvae, eggs, fish, birds, turtles and mammals are found at fronts (GESAMP, 2017).  However, the same mechanism that creates these oases, also act to accumulate marine debris.  This creates a predicament for conservation efforts within MPAs.

The aim of this research will be to resolve this predicament by quantifying and modelling frontal activity within MPAs around the world.  An understanding of frontal activity within MPAs will provide managers that ability to identify marine debris hotspots to enhance marine debris reduction and conservation efforts within MPAs.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Andrew Fischer


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


The project is open to domestic (Australian and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from international applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Hydrodynamic modelling, MATLAB, ArcGIS

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select the project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Andrew Fischer, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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